reflecting on the future of knowledge

I started my independent consulting practice in 2003 and one of the first books I purchased was — The Future of Knowledge: Increasing Prosperity through Value Networks by Verna Allee (2002) Butterworth-Heinemann (ISBN: 0750675918). The topic of value network analysis and the leading role that Verna Allee played came up in some recent discussions in one of my online communities of practice. So I decided to re-read the book that planted so many ideas in my mind. Here are some of the highlights, almost 20 years after Verna started writing The Future of Knowledge.


One of the primary requirements for supporting knowledge work is to ensure that people have the tools and information they need to complete their everyday tasks. But, another equally important goal is to provide appropriate technologies for collaborative work in a complex global environment. The more complex modes of knowledge cannot be turned over to databases and automation. They are accomplished by people through active and immediate conversation and interchanges. Connective technologies enable us to link up with our peers so that we may weave the threads of our understanding together into new synthesis and insights.

This excellent advice still needs to be promoted. Today, more time, money, and effort are put into automation, machine learning, and what passes for AI. Much less effort is put into helping people connect, in spite of collaboration technologies. In too many workplaces, people do not have time to collaborate and share deep knowledge, much less cooperate across silos. Connecting people is the focus of personal knowledge mastery.


Communities of practice emerge in the social space between project teams and knowledge networks … Communities of practice are also distinctly different from teams. Team skills cannot simply be transferred to communities of practice … In work teams and projects, managers generally pre-determine major goals and the basic nature of the joint enterprise. In a real community of practice, these are negotiated among members. Further, a community life cycle is determined by the value it creates for its members, not by project deadlines.

“Sensing” Our World

We are in a constant, collective journey of storytelling, sense making, and creation. Knowledge is a conversation. It is not a static “thing,” but a continual process in motion, emerging in the shared communal learning space that arises between people. Every conversation reshapes our knowledge, modifying it to fit new circumstances, expanding it with new information or connections, pruning out ideas and expressions that are no longer useful.

The Seek > Sense > Share framework shares this perspective, as well as the concept of life in perpetual beta.

Verna Allee also discusses intangible value, which is key to her value network analysis process. Intangible assets are important because — “The most critical factors of success — the intelligence of employees, the systems and processes in place to get the work done, and the quality of customer and supplier relationships — don’t show up anywhere on the balance sheet.” Three types of intangibles are described.

External Structure — Alliances and relationships with customers, strategic partners, suppliers, investors, and the community. Includes assets such as brand recognition and goodwill.

Human Competence — Individual and collective capabilities, knowledge, skills, experiences, and problem-solving abilities that reside in people in the organization.

Internal Structure — Systems and work processes that leverage competitiveness. Includes IT, communications, technologies, images, concepts and models of how the business operates as well as databases, documents, patents, copyrights, and other “codified” knowledge.

in 2020 intangible assets accounted for 90 percent stock index

Source: Ocean Tomo

The Knowledge Complexity Framework puts together the work of Peter Senge, Stafford Beer, Russell Ackoff, Dorothy Leonard, and many others. “The more variables we are processing, the more complex the cognitive task. At greater levels of abstraction, knowledge work becomes more challenging, increasingly collaborative and social in nature.”

Immediate — Instinctual learning — Sensing — Gathering information

Very short term — Trial & Error — Action without learning — Doing something the most efficient way

Short term — Reflective — Self-conscious reflection — Doing it the best way

Medium term — Communal — Understanding context, relationships, & trends — What promotes or impedes effectiveness?

Long term — Integrative — Self-organizing — Seeing where an activity fits the whole picture

Very long term — Generative — Value driven — Finding or connecting with one’s purpose

Timeless — Synergistic — Connection & sustainability — Understanding values in greater context

[this is a summary of the more detailed framework]

After almost two decades, there is still a wealth of information in this book.

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